CHINA - Authorities in Guangdong province are set to launch a three-month crackdown on the sex industry across the province after media outlets recently uncovered rampant prostitution in massage parlours and hotels in Dongguan.
Li Chunsheng, vice-governor of Guangdong and director of Guangdong Public Security Department, said in a televised news conference on Monday that all entertainment venues involved in organising sexual services will be targeted.
"Local police officers who are found protecting the sex industry or who organise sexual services will be severely punished," Li said.
The crackdown came after China Central Television reported on Sunday morning that the sex industry was flourishing in Dongguan, an entertainment hub in the Pearl River Delta region.
The CCTV report said there was prostitution in five Dongguan townships. It showed secretly shot footage of scantily clad women parading on stage at venues and venue managers openly introducing customers to their prostitution services.
Dongguan, which has become one of the world's major manufacturing and trade hubs, is also famous for its lavish underground casino resorts, bath centers, massage parlours and backstreet brothels. The sex industry is reportedly so lucrative that the city is known as China's "sex capital".
Media reports estimate that at least 300,000 people work in the sex industry in Dongguan. China Daily could not confirm this number.
The announcement of a province-wide crackdown comes a day after the Ministry of Public Security and authorities in Guangdong jointly launched an investigation into prostitution in Dongguan on Sunday.
As of Monday morning, 12 entertainment venues involved in prostitution and other sexual services had been closed and 162 people investigated, the authorities said.
The campaign targeted 1,948 entertainment venues across the prefecture-level city. Eight police officers, including a township public security bureau director and a police station director, were suspended and are being investigated, according to the Dongguan public security bureau.
Police stations in the five townships are being investigated for dereliction of duty or failing to respond to informants' reports of prostitution in illegal entertainment venues.
The crackdown prompted diverse reactions, ranging from sympathy for sex workers to support for the police in a country where prostitution has been outlawed for six decades.
According to China's Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security, prostitutes and their customers are subject to detention and fines. Organizers of sexual services are investigated by authorities.
Hu Chunhua, Party chief of Guangdong, also stressed the need on Sunday to investigate the sex trade in Dongguan and across the province.
The Yuanfeng Hotel in Zhongtang township, exposed in the CCTV report for hosting prostitution, suspended business on Monday, with only a security guard strolling around.
Huang Wenhong, a sales manager at a gas station next to the hotel, said that "many people visited the hotel at night over the past two weeks of the Spring Festival holiday."
A manager of a nearby foot massage centre, who declined to be named, said the crackdown on prostitution would bring huge losses to the entertainment industry in Dongguan.
"Our business has also been greatly affected since Sunday. We had to suspend business because there are fewer customers today," the manager said.
"We're worried about hiring new workers in the near future. Girls will be afraid of coming to Dongguan."
The crackdown will cost many women, along with a number of other people related to the entertainment industry, their jobs, he said.
"I am planning to find another job in the city. If worst comes to worst, I'll leave Dongguan," he said.
Lu Weiqi, deputy director of the Dongguan Public Security Bureau, said the local government plans to introduce tougher measures to deal with prostitution.
"We will ensure a safe and fair environment for those venues that are not engaged in prostitution," Lu said.
Xinhua contributed to this story.